Much though I love the Discworld series – and it is only the Discworld series I plan to focus on just now, not the other hoard of Pratchett work – there have always been a good handful of Pratchett’s books I have never got on with. Generally speaking, they are the ones I read once then put aside, and they’ve been sitting quietly on my shelves ever since. But I decided I probably ought to give them another go, especially in light of my recent re-education with regards to my opinions on Neil Gaiman’s writing. As such, I’m reading for a second time all those Discworld novels I never really cared for, to find out just how much my taste has changed since I was sixteen (being the time I read every single Discworld novel in order of publication and formed my opinions of them, and the ones published since don’t figure in my list of unfavoured books, apart from Unseen Academicals).
So far, the answer is “lots”. I have read Small Gods (which I found terminally dull) and rather liked it, though not loved it, and Mort (which I just meh-ed) and enjoyed it immensely. I’m not going to post detailed reviews of them, because (and I did try) I find with Pratchett novels I want to meander aimlessly off and talk about how the novels interact with one another and the different storylines and I sincerely doubt anyone wants to read 5,000 words of me rambling on, but I am going to do a little post as I go through them about how my feelings have changed, and how I think the novels have benefitted from eight years of growing up (or not).
So, the ones I plan to read, in order of chronology, not in order of my haphazard plans, are:
The Colour of Magic
The Light Fantastic
The Last Continent
It actually seems quite a lot, now I list them all.
I suspect there will be mixed feelings. I know that the first couple of books are disliked by a good proportion of people, and generally held to be Not His Best, so I may continue to dislike them (especially as the reasons I disliked them at first, as far as I recall, were good and sound, not just “meh”), but the others are more up for debate. Certainly, there’s little chance of me liking Interesting Times ever ever, but I shall give it a go.
As for the two I’ve read, I think Small Gods is the more interesting, as I’ve both come to enjoy it more, and to disapprove of it more. As for why I like the story better now, I don’t really know… there’s nothing in it really that I think requires a great deal of maturity to appreciate, or that draws on much that I’ve read in the meantime. Possibly, as with LoTR, I’ve just developed a little more patience. As for disapproval, bit more complex. I am generally a fan of Pratchett’s theology. His pantheon is done both thoughtfully and hilariously, and the way he talks about how his gods work, and how belief works, is surprisingly complex for the size of the novels he talks about them in. In Small Gods, however, I get the feeling that a lot of his thinking for this stuff is still unfinished, which is slightly jarring, but also that the focus on Omnianism *cough cough* not looking at anyone real nope *cough* is just a little bit… I don’t know… judgemental. Not much. Not enough for me to be properly annoyed. But it doesn’t tally with the Omnianism of say… Constable Visit, in the later Watch novels. I know this is, in-canon, meant to be because of the influence of Brutha on Omnianism, but there does still seem a level of dislike in Small Gods that you don’t find anywhere else. The book is obviously setting out as a “this is bad, and then we fix it because <complicated thoughts about religious belief>”, but it’s almost as if slightly older Pratchett kinda disagrees with the Pratchett of six years previously. Small Gods was written in 1992, and Carpe Jugulum in 1998. In the latter, Granny Weatherwax discusses Omnianism and the practice of religion in some depth with Mightily Oats, and she is to some extent judging him for his accepting and tolerant religious behaviour. She talks about how, if she believed truly, she’d be out there converting and waging war on the ungodly etc. etc. (I paraphrase rather, as I can’t find the actual quotation*). For me, and I’m well aware that I am reading somewhat into it here, it feels like something of a turnaround of opinion by the author, like he’s having some complicated thoughts about faith that maybe aren’t the thoughts he’d had before, and he’s trying to express them. The conversation doesn’t end well. I possibly put more stock by this than I should because Granny Weatherwax seems so often to me to be expressing a lot of rather more authorial voice than anyone else. I’ve no idea why I think that, but I do, and it’s my blog, so I can fail to substantiate my claims if I like.
Anyway, what I basically think is that the story is one that requires a level of patience to enjoy that maybe I didn’t possess eight years ago, but the religious issues are handled a touch less maturely than I would like now. But not horribly. Not even necessarily badly. I just… get hints of slight judgeyness in there that I don’t like the look of.
Mort is rather more simple. I wasn’t an enormous fan of the story or characters when first I read it, but several Susan Sto Helit novels later, and a little less judgemental of romance and female characters**, the story is more tolerable and Ysabelle considerably less annoying. I still don’t think there’s as much depth and introspection as you get in Pratchett’s best, but I find more to appreciate than I did before, and so it has moved a good way up in my estimation. Knowing how it all turns out twenty-something years on, rather than being spoilers, makes the plot better, because you can see how things started and wonder where things changed (the relationship between Susan’s parents and Death, in no particular book as far as I recall, deteriorates badly, though they end Mort on very good terms, and presumably the seeds of that are in Mort, though I can’t quite see all of it). It also casts a different light on the Death we know in later books. He’s not quite finished, and so you can kind of still see how the author is constructing him. There’s a lot of familiar stuff there, but his character isn’t quite the same. He’s colder, and harsher and not the really rather lovely Death of Hogfather/Thief of Time. But I didn’t know that the first time I read it. So this one is just, for me, a combination of becoming more tolerant and wanting to see where things come from that happen in later books.
These two are never going to be two of my favourites, but I’m now willing to grant them “good book” status, which I never would have before. I can’t say as I can see how anyone read Mort the first time and decided it was “comic genius” (a review on the back cover of my paperback edition) but oh well.
Hopefully next time: Republic of Thieves! I have it now, and it looks shiny and inviting.
* This isn’t the bit I meant, but it is semi-related, and also Granny Weatherwax talking to Mightily Oats: “You say that you people don’t burn folk and sacrifice people anymore, but that’s what true faith would mean, y’see? Sacrificin’ your own life, one day at a time, to the flame, declarin’ the truth of it, workin’ for it, breathin’ the soul of it. That’s religion. Anything else is just . . . is just bein’ nice. And a way of keepin’ in touch with the neighbours.”
** I said “a little”. I have got better, honest!